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Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
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Indian Horse (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Richard Wagamese

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2052257,211 (4.23)45
Member:gypsysmom
Title:Indian Horse
Authors:Richard Wagamese
Info:Douglas & Mcintyre (2012), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Canadian, Read but unowned
Rating:*****
Tags:Ontario, residential schools, hockey, Ojibway, racism, Canada Reads 2013

Work details

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (2012)

  1. 20
    The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Iudita)
  2. 00
    Motorcycles & Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor (unaluna)
    unaluna: If you liked Indian Horse, I think you'd like this one as well. It's insightful, sensitive and very witty.
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This story retells the adventures of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibwa kid, who pretty much lost his entire family, and was found by some people and taken to a residential school. Then his life becomes worse (no surprise there), and he starts to isolate himself from the other kids. One day, a miracle in the form of a hockey loving priest presented himself to Saul, and from there, their friendship blossomed. Saul found a beauty in hockey, and proceeded to find ways to play it. Since he was too young to play in an actual game, he asked to clean the ice at first, an excuse to wake up early in the morning to practice. Later, he found that he was gifted with a special sight that allowed him to observe the game, and predict what will happen next. He quickly became a well known hockey player.

I confess: I only picked this book up because I was promised bonus marks from my English teacher, and you know...you can never have too many bonus marks. This type of book is definitely not a genre you would ever see me picking up to read of my own volition, but I figured that since I love reading so much, I might as well read something that will earn me some bonus marks. I don't even have to write a paper or do an assignment on it...so really...I could have not read it, and my English teacher wouldn't be the wiser. In case you were wondering...I DID read it though.

***

Another confession: I was close to DNF-ing this book. The first forty or so pages nearly bored me to death, and I skimmed through most of it. There was so. Much. Information. I was absolutely overwhelmed. I'm the kind of reader who needs action to be entertained...and the first forty pages...Had. No. Action. Okay...so maybe I exaggerated a teensy bit...buuuut...my point still stands: not much happened. And I was bored.

After the fifty page mark, things finally started happening. I was getting the action I was pining for. Unfortunately, this action were the horrors that occurred within residential schools. Now, this was a Christian school, and being a Christian myself, you can imagine my shock when I read about all the dreadful things that happened to these poor kids under their care. It was horrifying. Suffice to say, this was when things finally started picking up, and I was hooked to the story. Fully invested, if you will.

The good news is that once I passed the peak of the great giant mountain that was the first forty pages of endless boredom, I really enjoyed the book. This book caused me to go into the much dreaded reading slump, but once I started getting into it, I went as far as neglecting my homework and pushing aside my studying for tests and quizzes until AFTER I've finished reading the book. No regrets. :)

Now the ending...the ending really was something. Or actually, to be more specific...the last fifteen or so chapters of the book was definitely NOT what I'd have expected. At all. Let's just say that the last parts of the book...weren't so great for Saul, and not the happily ever after that I (along with whoever reads the book) had hoped for Saul and his hockey career.

Also...I thought it vital to mention that I quite enjoyed this book even though I have no knowledge of hockey whatsoever. Before picking up this book to read, my English teacher briefly introduced the book and summarised the blurb on the back for us. I instantly thought it would be one of THOSE books where you would need to have at least SOME background knowledge of the subject lest you get lost in all the jargon and technical terms...but it wasn't like that! Huzzah!

Then there was my social studies teacher who saw the book I was reading and asked how I was liking it. Mind you, that was when I was still stuck in the measly first forty pages of absolute boredom. So I didn't really give her an answer...I only said something along the lines of: I'm not deep enough into the book to give you an accurate rating of the book. She then proceeded to explain to me how she read this book sometime last year and was so deeply entrenched in the book that her family had to tell her to put the book down and join the family. Now, if she loved it so much...it couldn't have been THAT bad, right? Right. It turned out to be pretty good. I'm glad I read it. ( )
  elizabeth1929 | Feb 1, 2016 |
On the first page of Richard Wagamese’s novel [Indian Horse], the narrator runs through a genealogical history, complete with clan affiliation and creation myths. It’s the kind of thing you might see in other Indian stories, either from the author, to set the stage, or from a character in the narrative to explain some idiosyncrasy. It’s the kind of thing you might hear at a native gathering, from an elder, during a prayer. It’s the kind of thing, dipped in stereotype and fermented until stale, that can bring a swift end to a read. But on the second page, Saul Indian Horse actually introduces himself when he says, “But I don’t give a shit about any of that.” Mind you, he’s not saying that he doesn’t care about his ancestry. What Indian Horse doesn’t care about is telling his story, about whether or not knowing where he comes from has anything to do with where he might be going. But he has to tell his story to get away from the treatment facility.

Saul Indian Horse’s story takes him from his ancestor’s lakes to a Catholic residential school to hockey rink’s before he begins to spiral into alcoholism. Gifted with speed and vision on the ice, Saul separates himself from life at St. Jerome’s, where the other native children suffer abuse and re-education. One priest takes a special interest in Saul, and teaches him how to play hockey. With his instinctive abilities, Saul manages to escape the school, adopted into a family and an amateur hockey league comprised completely by native communities. It’s not until Saul and his team begins to compete against white teams that he loses a grip on the game that had spirited him away. Win or lose, the white boys take hockey away from him, and take him away from his center. That’s when Saul finds himself in a bottle.

That’s not the end for Saul – he climbs out of the bottle, thanks to some visions and a treatment facility. But this is the only place the book suffers. During his revival, Saul happens on some repressed memories from the school. The twist reads like a twist – like the author had to repress those memories in Saul, and hide them from the reader, in order to protect the narrative he’d built. In looking back, there are a few subtle, extremely subtle, clues that Saul might not be a truthful narrator, and that there might be something he’s hiding. And repressed memory is a legitimate occurrence. But that condition rarely stands on its own, rarely exhibits in people, and children, who don’t exhibit other symptoms of what has happened to them. Saul,doesn’t break or act out in any other way, not until he just starts drinking one day, for no apparent reason, and then descends into full alcoholism.

Everything else about Wagamese’s book had the straight ring of truth. The writing was tight, and character driven, which is especially important in a first person narrative from such a unique character like Saul Indian Horse. The story was credible and accurate. That detail driven truthfulness extended from the sad, painful life at the residential school right down onto the hockey rink. There were long stretches where I was consumed with a game I’ve never played, watched, or cared anything about.
To be fair, the problem of Saul’s repressed memories likely won’t bother that many folks – not unless they have a background in a field that gives them a specialized knowledge. And the problem was a minor one, really, in an otherwise readable and evocative book.

Bottom Line: A fresh native voice from the cold north – even if there are a few plot points that strain some credibility, the writing is solid and filled with character. ( )
  blackdogbooks | Dec 27, 2015 |
“One day the clouds hung low and light rain freckled the slate-grey water that peeled across our bow. The pellets of rain were warm and Benjamin and I caught them on our tongues as our grandmother laughed behind us. Our canoes skimmed along and as I watched the shoreline it seemed the land itself was in motion. The rocks lay lodged like hymns in the breast of it, and the trees bent upward in praise like crooked fingers. It was glorious. Ben felt it too. He looked at me with tears in his eyes, and I held his look a long time, drinking in the face of my brother.” (18)

Book Description: from front cover
Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he’s a reluctant resident in a treatment centre, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. Beginning with his childhood on the land, he embarks on a journey back through his life as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows.

Author Richard Wagamese traces the decline of a culture and a cultural way with compassion and insight. For Saul, taken forcibly from his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement.

My Review:
Wagamese’s Indian Horse was a gift from the Aboriginal Education Department of my local School District. And what a gift! The novel is one I didn’t want to put down, and, but for starting it late one evening, would have read in a single sitting. The story of Saul Indian Horse, and of the fate of his family, is at once tragic, heartbreaking, courageous, and victorious. Saul, having been taken into residential school at eight years old, manages well into his adulthood to see his way through the other side of his abusive experience, and to at last know peace. But the road to salvation was not a straight one or an easy one, plagued as it was by rage, isolation, desolation, and alcoholism.

“They took me to St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School. I read once that there are holes in the universe that swallow all light, all bodies. St. Jerome’s took all the light from my world. Everything I knew vanished behind me with an audible swish, like the sound a moose makes disappearing into spruce.” (43)

Wagamese writes with a powerful, raw honesty, not shying away from the realities of rape, starvation, beatings, and humiliation that plagued the school’s children; but neither using such details to garner effect. On a personal note, I believe the residential schools to be Canada’s greatest shame. Highly recommended. ( )
2 vote lit_chick | Aug 29, 2015 |
Sad story about a boy that attended a residential school in the Canadian North. What kept him alive was the game of hockey. He does come to terms about the abuse he suffered at the school but it was difficult to say the least. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what these pour children endured at these schools in the 50's and 60's. ( )
  janismack | Aug 21, 2015 |
Definitely a book directed at Canadians.

I knew that children were sent to Australia from British orphanages, I knew that Aboriginal children were separated from their families 'for their own good'. I knew that children of Irish mothers were 'rehomed' without trace. Now I discover that Canadian Indian children were also wrenched from their families and forced to live in barbaric schools. Here they learnt very little and were savagely beaten for minor infringements of the totally unrealistic rules. Their native language was banned and most of their days were spent in cleaning, farming or cooking, serving men and women who should never have been nuns or monks in the first place. Why is this becoming such a familiar scenario? Why are there so many evil people masquerading as Christians?

Saul Indian Horse comes from a loving Ojibway family. His grandparents are from the 'old way' but his parents' generation are Christian, living as their ancestors had, but confused about what they believe. They are, however, determined that Saul and his brother Benjamin will not be stolen away like their elder sister, never to be seen again.

Unfortunately, in spite of their best efforts, Saul finds himself at St Jerome's. Here he survives the loneliness and fear by totally engrossing himself in the game of ice hockey.

This is where the Canadian readers in our book group continued to be engrossed, while the non-Canadians got lost in a continuous description of hockey jargon. I found myself skipping large chunks of detailed descriptions of hockey games, exciting twirls on the back of the blade and bouncing off backboards. It sounds like an horrifically violent sport, but I was totally out of my depth in these passages, which formed a large proportion of the book.

This book had a strong message about survival and endurance and what it takes to overcome a traumatic childhood, and I would surely have been giving it 4 stars if it hadn't been so strongly biased towards ice hockey.
Recommended reading for Canadians. ( )
  DubaiReader | Jun 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Saul is portrayed clearly enough to function as a believable, engaging narrator, but he also operates as a kind of allegorical figure in a larger, spiritual drama of personal and communal trauma, endurance, and recovery.

Wagamese pulls off a fine balancing act: exposing the horrors of the country’s residential schools while also celebrating Canada’s national game.
 
Wagemese’s writing qualifies as an act of courage, for we are in the midst of one of the most effective silencing campaigns in generations: People who dare to address historical wrongs are regularly accused of whining; unbelievably, the word “victim” has become a derogatory term. Yet, Wagamese writes without apology; and with such specificity and emotional restraint the reader sometimes forgets to breathe....In addition to individual words and phrases, he weaves in Ojibway legends. In this way Wagamese crafts an unforgettable work of art.
 
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Epigraph
I come in to the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things
Dedication
For my wife, Debra Powell, for allowing me to bask in her light and become more.
First words
My name is Saul Indian Horse.
Quotations
When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That's what they inflicted on us.
Our legends tell of how we emerged from the womb of out Mother Earth; Aki is the name we have for her. We sprang forth intact, with Aki's heartbeat thrumming in our ears, prepared to become her stewards and protectors. When I was born our people still talked this way. We had not yet stepped beyond the influence of our legends. That was a border my generation crossed, and we pine for a return that has never come to be.
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Book description
Saul Indian Horse is dying. Tucked away in a hospice high above the clash and clang of a big city, he embarks on a marvellous journey of imagination back through the life he led as a northern Ojibway, with all its sorrows and joys.

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he's sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement.

Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man. Evaluated and Approved by ERAC
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